Saturday,25 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Saturday,25 November, 2017
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Cloud busting

The Ministry of Environment is once again grappling with Cairo’s seasonal black cloud. Mahmoud Bakr reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On the fringes of his inspection tour of Sharqiya, Environment Minister Khaled Fahmi discussed plans to combat air pollution, including the now notorious “black cloud” that descends on Cairo in the autumn. Using satellite imagery and graphics, he illustrated both the scope of the problem and the level of response, drawing detailed comparisons between the results of the government’s handling of the cloud in 2013 and its current plans.
 
Fahmi stressed the importance in the Small Farms Project, a cooperation protocol between the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture that aims to recycle 100,000 tons of rice straw produced by farmers who own properties of five feddans or less. Of the total, 90,000 tons is converted into fertiliser and 10,000 into animal fodder.
The Environment Ministry’s role in the project, said Fahmi, was to support the recycling programme by providing technical support and basic materials, including an effective microorganism (EM) solution, while the Ministry of Agriculture, which has overall supervision of the recycling process through agricultural extension workers, was in charge of the development and care of compost heaps and advised farmers on how best to use them.
The economic benefits of the project are such that some larger farmers have already initiated recycling/fertiliser projects at their own expense.
 
The intensity and duration of the “black cloud”, Fahmi said, was determined by several factors during the rice straw burning season. Foremost among them are the location and size of the bundles being burned, conditions such as wind direction and speed, and the existence or not of thermal inversion.
 
He noted that this year 1,337,739 feddans of land were devoted to rice cultivation, less than in 2013. Of the total, 814,767 feddans were being dealt with by regional branches of the Environment Ministry. Until now 463,883 feddans have been harvested and 45,000 tons of rice straw gathered - 10 per cent of the quantity expected to be burned.
 
In future a multi-faceted approach to the problem will be applied, says Ahmed Abul-Saud, director of the Environmental Affairs Authority. Regional branches of the Environment Ministry will intensify efforts to curb any violations of burning restrictions, strengthening surveillance teams, particularly in areas known to burn straw intensively, and prosecuting offenders. The ministry will coordinate with governorate authorities, and with other concerned ministries, to detect any infringements, and will work alongside agricultural associations to conduct awareness-raising campaigns to educate farmers on the most appropriate ways to dispose of agricultural refuse and the environmental hazards of improper disposal.
 
A second focus will be to reduce industries emissions in Greater Cairo, working in cooperation with governorate authorities and concentrating, initially at least, on small and medium sized enterprises such as workshops and foundries.
 
Fahmi noted that though electricity generating stations are currently powered by diesel some factories have begun to use more pollution-causing fuels, including rubber, thus aggravating problems caused by traffic congestion and automobile exhaust. He drew attention to the marked reduction in air pollution this time last year, when the curfew was in force, underlining that the ministry was determined to reduce automobile emissions. “We are working with the Ministry of Interior to intensify traffic campaigns to reduce emissions, and are coordinating with governors to bring public dumping sites under greater control, especially around the capital,” he said.
Public awareness campaigns are also planned, says Abul-Saud, as well as weather bulletins that include information on changing wind directions and other relevant data.
The Minister of Environment began his tour of Sharqiya on Sunday with a visit to the village of Al-Sanafin in the Minya Al-Qamh district where he met with farmers. He then headed to the village’s unit and met with agricultural workers and discussed ways to recycle rice-straw and other agricultural refuse to produce organic fertilisers. He concluded his tour with an inspection of a rice-straw collection site in the village of Al-Zanaklun village and a meeting with governorate environmental officials.

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